Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific header image 2

Japanese – Introduction

September 19th, 2011 · No Comments · *Introductions, Japanese

by Peter Hendriks and Sheryn Lee, with an introduction by Sheryn Lee

The Japanese language is a key feature of Japanese nationalism, consequently it conveys much about how it constructs and perceives its security. This was displayed in the popular doctrine of nihonjinron (日本人論) – which conveys the meaning of ‘theories of Japanese cultural and racial uniqueness’ – that was prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, it was inferred that there was a uniquely ‘Japanese’ mode of thinking that defied translation. Nihonjinron suggested that one had to be born Japanese to be able to grasp the intricacy and delicacy of the Japanese language.[1] Moreover, it was suggested that the Japanese language ‘belongs exclusively’ to the Japanese in the sense that it can only be truly appreciated by the Japanese.[2] This lexicon of Japanese security concepts will attempt to convey this Japanese understanding of their most salient terms.

In the wake of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), initial steps begun in official coordinated language planning at the bureaucratic level as Japan’s victory revived flagging interest in the reform of the national language; as it was the first instance in which Japanese would be used outside the four main islands of the archipelago.[3] Since then, Japan has considered itself a pivotal anchor between Eastern and Western civilization. This was evident in initiatives from the Greater East Co-Prosperity Sphere, in which, Japan attempted to ‘educate’ the rest of East Asia all they had learnt from Western modernization, to less brutal proposals, such as former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s failed ‘East Asia Community’, in which “based upon the spirit of yu-ai (‘fraternity’湯愛), Japan would seek to become a kakehashi (‘bridge’架け橋) for the world, between the Orient and the Occident – between developed and developing countries and between diverse civilizations”.[4] It is this strategy of being an interpreter of the West for the East, in which Japan not only hopes to maintain the status quo, but also, ensure its national survival. As such, it is pertinent to understand how Japanese envisage such referents of security as, ‘democratic peace’ (minshu heiwaron 民主平和論), ‘alliance’ (doumei 同盟) and ‘region’ (chiiki 地域).

Moreover, since the end of World War II, the concept of human security (ningen no anzen hoshou人間の安全保障), is much stressed in Japanese foreign policy, to make it consistent with its defense policy, in particular the critically important Article 9 of the country’s constitution – the article that renounces war ‘as the sovereign right of the nation’. Thus, the term ‘security’, anzen (安全), when spoken of in context with Japan is meant to infer pacifist notions, in which anzen does not imply any of the pre-WWII militaristic connotations of the Japanese Imperial Army.

Yet, in the 21st century, the relative decline of Japan as a great power in Northeast Asia vis-à-vis China calls for a closer examination of how the Japanese perceive security, and the role in its ‘self-defence forces’ in ensuring Japan’s security and survival as a nation. In February 2011, China overtook Japan as the second largest economy in the world, and the era of Japan’s status as East Asia’s great power seemed to have pass. In reaction to this, Japan’s Self-Defense Force has begun re-militarising in reaction to China’s rapid military modernization. As such it has become pertinent to understand two key terms. Firstly, Chuugoku no mondai (中国の問題), which literally translates as ‘the China question’, but conveys a deeper sense of a vexing puzzle for the Japanese political elite. That is, whether this decline in Japanese power relative to China threatens its national survival and what are the strategies to deal with that threat. Secondly, anzen hoshoo taisei (安全保障体制), which literally translates as ‘safety guarantees’ but is the term used to convey the U.S.-Japan security treaty. The term is deployed when Japan discusses American security commitments as a pillar of their ‘self-defense policy’. As such it infers whether they consider this a credible and long-term guarantee, and moreover, whether it is necessary for Japan to find other means to secure its survival.



[1] Kosaku Yoshino, Cultural Nationalism in Contemporary Japan: A sociological enquiry, London UK: Routledge, 1992, p.12.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Nanette Twine, Language and the modern state: the reform of written Japanese, London UK: Routledge, 1991, p.2.

[4] Yukio Hatoyama, Address by H.E. Dr. Yukio Hatoyama Prime Minister of Japan at the Sixty-Fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet, 24 September 2009.


No Comments so far ↓

There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment